Meeting Irene, The 1907 Gaff Trading Ketch
Two ships passing in the night… That old phrase, conjuring images steeped in history and missed connection.
Sailing ship Irene and I had yet to cross paths.
One of the last west Country Trading ketches, a 1907 120ft gaffer with a few stories to tell, Irene sounded like my kind of boat. But we’d never met.
The Summer of 2016
The closest we came was in the summer of 2016, in the Solent. Irene was sailing there on a charter, and we passed her onboard Queen Galadriel. QG is a not too-dissimilar 120ft ex Baltic Trader gaff ketch – I worked on as First Mate last season. I’d volunteered onboard her and other sail training boats for the last ten years.
Other than hearing a few things on the grapevine, as we all do, I’d not had any contact with Irene.
She intrigued me.
So when SaltyJobs exhibited at the Southampton Boat Show 2017 last month, I was pretty excited when Stuart, Irene’s Ship Manager, came to say hello.
Arranging a date to meet
We arranged a date last week to go and meet Stuart at the ship, in her winter refit ‘nest’ in Cornwall.
Wow. What a treat. To finally get to meet Irene, but to see her at the end of her season, de-regged and ready for refit. A hard time to see any ship. But you know that if you see her in all of her naked refit state, you’re definitely going to love her when she’s back in commission next year.
Stuart got in touch because they need to recruit a new relief skipper/mate for Irene for next season. I said that SaltyJobs can help them find somebody, this is right up our street… or creek.
And this would give me the chance to meet Irene, and tell her real story, give that little bit more insight into what working onboard her might entail. To inspire more of you to consider it, and apply for your dream jobs working around boats.
The Irene Story
Irene’s current owners have had her in their guardianship since 1965. At first a family home on the Thames, she went on to win the coveted Concourse D’Elegance award at the Antigua Classics Regatta in 2003.
Not a week later, she burned totally to the waterline in an unknown fire.
Undeterred by the total loss, her owners raised her from the deep. Her hull was towed back across the Atlantic to Cornwall by another sailing ship, the Avontuur.
Her second restoration thus began and in 2009 Irene set sail again, as the ship she now is.
She went on to win the National Historic Ships Flagship of the Year 2015. It’s easy to see why.
Irene: the wow factor
Irene is a bit different, to the other traditional boats I’ve sailed on at least, because she is a privately run vessel and only does charter. So she has four double ensuite cabins below, compared to the 16 bunk beds on Queen Galadriel and the more rough-and-ready sail training vessels I’m used to. Irene has a master state cabin in her stern, that can be booked for a small premium. Talk about wow factor!
The fact that I’ve stuck mostly to sail training is probably why I’ve not come across Irene yet – there are so many niches within even the world of traditional boats, that it’s easy to mix with the same people and boats.
The crew of Irene
But when I went to meet Irene’s Senior Skipper Ieuan, 26-years-old and his second season working on the ship, it didn’t take us long to work out all of our shared connections, stories, and friendships… something about someone fishing someone out of the water… yeah I know that story… that was you? Hello!
It’s so refreshing to meet a Skipper whose heart is totally in it. Working on a boat like this is never just a job, it’s a lifestyle. Ieuan has sailed on other traditional boats in the past, and as fate would have it, he almost ended up working on Queen Galadriel.
I’ll always remain loyal to sail training, because it is how I began sailing as a 16-year-old, and received sponsorship to do my professional RYA qualifications.
But working on a private charter vessel has some obvious perks. Budgets for maintenance are often higher, food is charter quality, there’s potential to receive guest tips, and you’ll get to go to some interesting destinations and perhaps festivals.
Chatting to Ieuan, it sounds as if they have an extremely tight-knit crew working very well together. There is a core three of them, Ieuan and deckhands Alex and Martha, all young at heart.
It’s clear the new Relief Skipper/First Mate who joins Irene will be made to feel very welcome, and a sense of humour will certainly feature as a requirement on their new job description. But they play and work hard in equal measure. Testament to his ethos and respect from the other crew, Ieuan says:
“There’s not a single deckhand on my crew who I wouldn’t be happy to let park the boat.”
There’s a real emphasis on teamwork, and being a valued member of the crew. Launching an appraisal system for the first time next season, with a strong core crew already in place, now is a great time to join Irene. They’re ideally looking for outstanding First Mates, who are keen to step up to Skipper in a supported environment with longevity as a goal.
Now, this is the worst bit about running SaltyJobs. Every now and then (in fact, every more often than not these days), an opportunity comes up which I just want to take myself. Instead, I’ve work to do, and you have a job to apply for.
Watch this space
And in the meantime, watch this space: SaltyJobs has been invited to sail on Irene as soon as she’s back in commission in 2018. We’ll be bringing you even more insight into Irene in her full sailing colours. Of course we’ll also see how her new crew is getting on… it could be you!